A guest post to help you be one of those parents who exercise regularly from Michelle Horgan, a leadership and team development coach at Captivate Coaching and Consulting.

When your child comes into the world your life changes immediately and your old life becomes unrecognisable in the blink of an eye. Whilst the journey of parenthood is overwhelmingly positive for most people, there are certain elements that become more challenging. Looking at other parents who exercise regularly it is easy to wonder how they do it!

All the things you used to stay on top of, like work, taking care of errands, running a household, exercising and looking after yourself, suddenly pale into insignificance when you’re looking after a tiny human.

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The things that changed with parenthood

As your child grows you start to manage those other priorities alongside caring for your little one because you have simply no choice but to get on with it! However, one thing which often stays at the bottom of the list for many people is exercising.

So how exactly, do you fit it all in when you’re managing work, ‘life admin’, staying on top of the household, looking after kids and juggling ALL the things? I totally hear you!

With two 6-year-olds keeping me incredibly busy, a new business to run, plus a partner who works shifts – it can be full-on, to say the least! But as someone who exercises between 4-6 times a week, I often get asked how, not only do I motivate myself to do it, but also how I fit it all in, which is why I’m sharing this piece today!

mum and daughter hugging in the grass

Fitting in exercise

In my mind, when you boil it down, it comes down to three simple factors;

  1. Discovering your why
  2. Building sustainable and happy habits
  3. Being kind to yourself

For those who know me, you’ll know I love to be productive and to cross things off my list gives me a sense of joy that only those with ‘achiever’ in their Top 10 CliftonStrengths will truly understand.

That said, I still have days where I’ve been running around like crazy, jumping from meeting to meeting before ferrying the kids to and from clubs, and the last thing I feel like doing is exercising.

Yet I still make sure I get my daily (or near-daily) dose of movement in. The way I do that can be broken down by running through the three factors I’ve mentioned above. It makes me one of those parents who exercise, and I love it! 

Exercise and Equipment

So let’s start with finding your why!

In almost everything I do, and particularly from a work perspective, I always start with why – yes, I was one of those annoying kids who didn’t stop asking that question, but having this insatiable curiosity has also set me up for success throughout my professional life!

Finding your ‘why’ for exercising is to truly understand your motivation.

My why

For me it is twofold. As a business owner, my health is my ‘wealth’ and if I can’t be on top form for myself, how can I expect to be on top form for my clients, it’s as simple as that.

So first of all, it’s to feel good about me and to ensure I look after my health so that I can do the things I love to do, but secondly and more importantly (and I’m sure this will resonate with many of you) I look after my health for the sake of my family.

I love to run around and play football in the garden or to dance around the kitchen like a (really embarrassing) clown with my kids, and I can only do this if I’m in good shape. 

running people showing legs running on a road

Finding your why

So to find out your why, you need to dig deep and think about what is motivating you to start (or continue exercising).

Make sure that each time you come up with an answer you then ask yourself ‘so what would that give me?’ – you’ll find that with each answer being revealed it will be like peeling the layers off an onion, until you get to the core – once you can’t go any further, you’ll know you have your core motivator.

How many times have you started a new exercise regime and absolutely loved it for the first few occasions, but then the call of the sofa and Netflix became all too strong and your efforts dwindled, slowly falling like an empty packet of Maltesers to the ground?

Well, your motivation is one thing but you then need to actually commit to the act of doing exercise and armed with the knowledge you have since discovering your why for exercise, you need to give it a bit of support.

That support comes in the form of building some happy and sustainable habits.

child kicking a football on grass

What’s the deal with habits?

There are so many books that have been written about the best habits to form to give you X, Y or Z and I’m not going to get into that topic – all I know is that the BEST habits are the ones that work for you.

This is why I call them happy and sustainable habits. What works for me may well not work for you! Parents who exercise need to find their own way to build it into their habits.

Habits for me

So, to give you an example, I really enjoy running as, for me, it’s a form of active meditation and I find that I come back from a run absolutely brimming with new ideas, which I can’t wait to get out of my head.

I also love team sports, so I have recently started playing touch rugby which is way for me to reconnect with a sport I love (minus the bruises!) and meet new people at the same time (plus I get my competitive fix at the same time).

So when it comes to habits, I now mentally associate running with creativity and innovation so when I need to get those creative juices flowing, I go for a run!

With touch rugby, I’ve introduced something fun into my life but I’ve also given myself a level of accountability because I’ve joined a club that meets at a regular time, once a week and that has now become a part of my routine.

rugby ball being held by two hands white and dark skinned

Thinking about your habits

My advice is to think about your why FIRST and then think about how you can reconnect with something you enjoy doing.

Think about what is fun for you – what do you enjoy doing where you can also find a way of taking this as a form of exercise?

It doesn’t even need to be a conventional form of exercise – cleaning or even gardening can be a great form of exercise (if that’s your thing!), the important thing is to find something you like doing and then to tag it onto something that can become habitual.

You can even layer up your habits so that you give yourself an extra incentive, so as an example, I love listening to podcasts so often listen to them when I go out for a walk – it means I achieve two things at the same time (there goes my ‘achiever’ strength going into overdrive again!) and it makes it even more likely that I’ll go out for that walk if I know I’m going to get the fix of my favourite podcast!

exercising lady

Be accountable

Most importantly, give yourself some accountability and start small – don’t mix it all up at the same time, introduce new habits one by one, ensuring they stick before you layer too many changes on top of one another (else you’re likely to come unstuck in the process!).

Set yourself incremental fitness related goals and targets to work towards and ensure you celebrate your successes along the way, this will support your motivation by reinforcing the benefits with rewards at each milestone.

And lastly, make sure you plan ahead, I often plan my exercise at least one day before so that I know it will fit in from a work and family perspective – if you leave it until the day, you’re likely to get sidetracked and you may not fit it in.

Be kind

The third element of my three simple factors to ensure you keep up with exercise is to be kind to yourself (whilst staying firm at the same time!).

The path to success in any field is never a straight line and if you head into it thinking you’ve got a linear path you’re already set up to be disappointed.  Instead, start by expecting setbacks along the way.

Whether it’s an annoying injury or a time constraint, the most important thing to remember is to adapt, don’t quit. So if you normally run but you’ve got an injury, don’t sit on the sofa and eat Magnums (even the salted caramel ones, no, you can forego this, you know you can!), go for a walk instead, whatever you do, just keep your body moving if you can. You can be one of those parents who exercise, even with injuries or time constraints!

How I have been kind to myself

When I broke my ankle for the second time (falling off a horse), I knew my rehab was going to be tough and I wasn’t able to put any weight on it for a long time, but I didn’t let that stop me – I discovered that I could do some rehab training in the pool so I got down to my local leisure centre and ‘jogged’ widths in the water, dodging any feisty pensioners who were out for their morning swim.

How to be kind to yourself

Make sure you factor in rest days – if these can be active rest days then that’s even better (by active rest, I mean going for a walk or doing some very light exercise).

Rest and recuperation are just as important as fitting the exercise in the first place – if you miss out on this piece of the puzzle you’ll end up burning yourself out so you must make sure you get sufficient rest.

What I’ve found is that it can be really hard to get started with an exercise in the first place, but that once you get going, it’s like a positive upwards spiral of impacts whereby you will start to crave the physiological benefits that exercise bring.

When you move your body you change your internal ‘state’, which in turn positively impacts your mindset and when you get into the groove of doing this on a regular basis, ultimately, this can change your life! 

So set yourself some targets, lay the foundations with some happy habits and trust the process – the rest will fall into place!

About Michelle

Michelle is a Leadership and Team Development Coach who loves helping people discover their hidden superpowers and realize their full potential.  As a retired Premiership rugby player, former scientist and business transformation specialist she draws on an eclectic mix of skills and knowledge to support Entrepreneurs, Elite Athletes, Organisations and Professionals to achieve their goals by leaning into their natural spheres of excellence.

Alongside Marjan Mahoutchian, Michelle is a Co-Founder and Executive Director of Captivate Coaching and ConsultingClick here for a FREE resource on how to discover your hidden talents, or follow Captivate’s Facebook or Instagram.

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